I had a writing class about the power of news that turned into a heated discussion about how we categorized “fake news.” Turns out, none of us were certain. No matter how many articles we read — How to Identify Fake News, or What Makes an Article Credible? — at the end of the day, when a class of 30 junior writing college students could not come up with one straight answer, I realized that the problem was much bigger than I expected.
For the next class, our professor asked us to post five news articles we knew for certain to be true in our discussions board. Only seven completed the assignment. I’m ashamed to admit I wasn’t one of them. The truth is that I spent hours scrolling through articles in search of the right ones, and I was never certain. Most were biased, not by blatant opinions, but the words they used to describe the event. I had to get out of one site and search for another regarding the same topic to make up my mind. None seemed real enough. The easiest to pick apart were the ones messily crafted — with multiple spelling and grammar mistakes — and resurfacing old stories under a different headline or context – those were the red flags that I began to recognize after reading several articles.
But what about those who don’t like reading as much as I do? Do they ever get the truth of the specific matters they are interested about?
A new initiative by the News Literacy Project (NLP), Newsroom to Classroom, made me consider it. According to Suzannah Gonzales, Associate Director of Education at NLP, the organization was founded after Alan C. Miller visited his daughter’s middle school and realized how overwhelmed these young students were by content, and how little they understood about the practice of journalism. By taking a day of students’ school education — the last day, when not a lot of information is likely to be taught — journalists could clear up these foggy topics that not only middle-schoolers, but a large majority of us, are still unfamiliar about.
As a volunteer with NLP’s Newsroom to Classroom program, award-winning radio and print journalist and CBS Professor Emerita of Professional Practice at Columbia Journalism School in New York City Ann Cooper “visited” via video conference fourth graders at the Carl Von Linné School in Chicago on their last day of school. While Cooper only discussed why freedom of the press is important and how a student should cover a story about bullying, NLP offers other resources that address matters like fake news, and how to successfully spot the difference between professionally-crafted journalist reports and misinformation. According to Gonzales, “The Newsroom to Classroom program is a return to News Literacy Project’s roots, when journalists made in-person visits to classrooms.”
And who says that it must stay between middle school classroom walls? I could use a lesson like the one Cooper taught to the students at Carl Von Linné School to inform my college class discussions about fake news, and I’m sure other students who question their judgment about the news could use it to become more confident news consumers outside the classroom.
The Newsroom to Classroom program needs journalist volunteers who are willing to visit their local schools and teach middle school and high school students about these important topics, as they are not currently included as part of standard lesson plans in schools across the U.S.
Journalists who are interested in volunteering for this program just need to email firstname.lastname@example.org.